Exploring the Kuiseb Delta
When Gerhard Coetzee played in the Kuiseb Delta as a boy, he had no idea that his childhood playground would one day become his outdoor classroom.
An almost exact replica of its bigger brother, the Jeep, the mini-dune jeep causes not only excitement to children, but also brings out the child in adults. "It's tiny, but it's a topper," warned Gerhard of African Heritage Tours, and after cruising effortlessly up the first dune my apprehension gave way to admiration.
The route took us up and down the dunes of the Kuiseb Delta on a journey of discovery that I have seldom experienced before. Gerhard is passionate about the Kuiseb Delta and along the way he stopped frequently to point out some of the many fascinations of the desert. From the enthusiastic tone of his voice, it was obvious that he loves these dunes as if they were his own.
Stopping on a high dune, Gerhard beckoned us to follow him down the slope to a clay pan surrounded by dunes and then pointed out the tracks of oxen and wagon wheels that have been preserved in the clay surface probably for 150 years. We stood in silence as we tried to imagine the difficulties the early pioneers had to face when they first trekked through the area.
A short way further, Gerhard stopped to point out one of the numerous middens of the early Khoikhoi pastoralists who once lived in the area. Scattered about were a variety of fish and bird bones, pieces of clay pots, beads and bottles. Surrounded by dunes, it seemed almost incredible that the area was once home to people.
The Khoikhoi pastoralists not only lived here, but also died here. Further along we stopped at a burial site. Protruding above the clay were rib bones, while shallow impressions in the silts indicated the sites of other burials. Pointing to a high dune, Gerhard told us that the northward march of the dunes is slowly covering the burial site.
Gerhard pulled up next to a large hummock dune and began talking enthusiastically about the many small creatures that inhabit the sprawling !nara bushes. A closer look revealed the tracks of numerous dune inhabitants, ranging from mice and lizards to beetles.
And so our journey took us from one exciting discovery to the next. The usual duration of the tour is one hour, but before we knew we had already exceeded our visit by 30 minutes. A one-and-a-half hour to an hour-and-45-minute tour, inclusive of a champagne breakfast in the dunes, is also offered.
African Heritage Tours also conducts full-day four-wheel drive tours that incorporate a visit to the site of the historic mission settlement of Scheppmansdorf, founded in 1845 by the Rhenish missionary Heinrich Scheppman. One of the highlights of this tour is undoubtedly visiting a clay pan where the tracks of elephants which inhabited the Kuiseb River a long time ago have been preserved in the mud. From here the tour continues to the Kuiseb Delta, with an optional excursion to view the famed Welwitschias of the Namib.
The Kuiseb Delta is an archaeological treasure house that can easily be destroyed or damaged by inconsiderate quad bikers, four-wheel drive vehicles and thoughtless visitors. Finding the archaeological sites, some of which are covered from time to time by the shifting dunes, is not easy. In addition, without any interpretation, a visit to the sites is meaningless. The best way to explore and appreciate the Kuiseb Delta is to take a guided tour. Visitors should note that all archaeological sites are protected and that it is illegal to remove any artefacts.
Related links: Horse graves, Adventure in Namibia
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